Ballot Initiative Would Close California’s Nuclear Plants, Cause Rolling Blackouts

Should it attract enough signatures by mid-April to be placed on the ballot in California, an initiative could effectively shutter the San Onofre and Diablo Canyon nuclear plants.

A state law passed in 1976, while exempting the plants now operating, placed a moratorium on power reactor construction in California until the federal government identifies a permanent solution for spent nuclear fuel disposal. A state analyst recently reported to the California attorney general that a ballot measure proposed by a Santa Cruz man would extend that ban to the currently operating plants and require them to shut down because the Department of Energy has not completed the Yucca Mountain repository project or an alternative means of taking the waste.

Should the Nuclear Waste Act of 2012 attract the 504,760 signatures it needs to find a place on the ballot, and if voters approve it, the plants’ closure would eliminate 16 percent of California’s electrical generation overnight. The analyst warned that would likely result in rolling blackouts, potentially for years, which would create 10s of billions of dollars in economic damage.

Combined, California’s four reactors produce about 4,400 megawatt hours of electricity, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Pacific Gas & Electric’s Diablo Canyon plant uses two Westinghouse pressurized water reactors. Southern California Edison’s San Onofre plant uses two PWRs designed by Combustion Engineering. All four were first licensed in the 1980s.

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